Tag Archive for: Year of the Tiger

The Year of the Tiger

 by Barbara J. Eikmeier

2022 is the year of the tiger. As images of Lunar New Year
celebrations scrolled across social media, I remembered that my son was born in
the year of the tiger. Immediately I knew, with a little shock, that he will be
36 this year.  It’s not that I always
know the current ages of my adult children off the top of my head. It’s
because of the tiger. 

While living In South Korea, a culture where respect to
elders is expressed with a more formal form of language, I noticed a Korean
national’s need to establish who is older when meeting someone for the first
time. With different generations it may be obvious who is the elder but when
ages are closer it can be awkward since it’s also considered rude to ask
someone their age.  If only there was a 12-year
age span tool to help narrow the gap. Enter the Chinese zodiac.

My Korean language tutor, Kang Ok, thought it was amusing
that Americans, when describing a person, would always tell hair and eye color
and approximate age, such as “He’s in his late 30s.” She admitted she had a
hard time telling a westerner’s age and she taught me a trick to determine an
age span.

Kang Ok demonstrated by saying, “I was born in the year of
the dragon.”

I immediately replied, “I’m the year of the pig,” (according
to the red paper placemat at every Chinese restaurant in America.)

It was exactly what she was expecting me to say. Kang Ok,
because she’s Korean and has the order of the twelve Chinese Zodiac animals memorized, knew
that I was either five years or (add 12) 17 years older than her. So, although she
was my teacher, which implies I use the more formal language when addressing
her, I was her elder, requiring her form of language to change
as well. 

Kang Ok, went on to tell me that Koreans think females born in the
year of the dragon are strong willed. She added, “But I was born during
daylight hours so it’s not as bad!”

Once I was on to the secret, I tried it with other Korean
friends. In the process I learned that when Kang Ok told me she was the year of
the dragon – the same as my daughter Sarah, I could immediately know that Kang Ok
was at least 12 years older than Sarah. It just so happened it was the year
of the dragon at the time. My daughter was 12. Now I knew, without asking, that
Kang Ok was 24 years old.

It’s been 20+ years since I’ve lived in Korea. I’m back to just
asking a person their age. I thought about my writing where I may flat out say,
‘he was 30 years old’, which works just fine, but if my characters have
different cultural experiences, maybe I needn’t be so blunt. The dialog could
be as simple as when Kang Ok tested me with: “I was born in the year of the
dragon.” To which a Korean might reply with raised eyebrows, “Dragon Lady? I’m
the pig.” To which Kang Ok would laugh and say, “Don’t worry, I was born during the day.” As the characters part ways, Kang Ok, could think, for example, “He’s
too old. He wouldn’t have been a student there at the time of the murder.”
never have to say his age. But Kang Ok knows his age and has eliminated him as
a suspect.

What else can you extract from the Chinese Zodiac placemat
to use in your character development?   A dragon lady has great potential to be a strong female
character, but you might find other traits, compatibilities and opposites to work into your writing. So, if you don’t spill the egg drop soup or lose noodles from your chopsticks you can save that paper placemat for your writing folder!

As for me, I’m off to think up the perfect Year
of the Tiger
gift for my son.

Barbara J. Eikmeier lived in Seoul, South Korea for two years. She is a quilter, writer, student of quilt
history, and lover of small-town America. Raised on a dairy farm in California,
she enjoys placing her characters in rural communities.